Right now you have at least two choices; you can read on or switch off, and, for the most part, we have a reasonable number of choices in any given moment. Choices are options for action and any action will be linked to a possible outcome. Often we start with the desired outcome of a situation and then decide on the best possible option for action to achieve that. So if you’re still reading you’ve chosen to feed your curiosity and perhaps also, because you want answers. The questions you have may well be linked to a seemingly unavoidable human condition; Suffering.
Worth the Pain
Whether you do or don’t practice yoga you will have experienced physical pain, perhaps through some other sort of exercise. We often associate physical pain with goal achievement; the no pain, no gain approach, which means that we use pain as a reference for how ‘well’ we are doing – getting it right or hitting the mark (massage anyone?!) So we seek out pain to increase our capability which in turn increases our capacity for pain, aka the pain threshold. However, the repeated pursuit of pain for suffering’s sake establishes a pattern of action without awareness which is not helpful to anyone.
The breath is intrinsically linked to pain; mental, emotional and physical, and it flags up suffering by changing its rhythm; by becoming shorter, quicker and even holding onto the inhalation. So if you learn to recognise these changes as warnings and learn to employ an even breathing rhythm (which we do in yoga) you are using your breath to ‘reset the alarm’ and, therefore, as an effective tool for pain management.
Remember that by being aware of each breath you are encouraging your mind to ‘be’ in this moment so if the suffering is produced by thoughts of past events or events to come then by focusing on your breath you will reduce agitation and promote a calm state of mind.
Meditation Exercise; Even Breathing
Find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed and make sure your back is upright and well supported. Rest your hands in your lap and close your eyes. Take 3 deep breaths to ‘log on’ to your exercise. Then allow your breath to find a natural rhythm while observing it, as before.
You will decide on a ‘count’ for both parts of your breath; I use the count of 4 but you may find that either 3 or 5 work just as well for you. Remember the count is the same for both parts of the breath so just begin by counting to your chosen number on the inhalation and then repeating the same count on the exhalation. Encourage smoothness in the transition between both parts of the breath and if you find that you are holding your breath the count may be too long. You can increase the count as you relax into this exercise but your intention is that both parts of the breath have the same duration. Also consider metering the amount of air that is inhaled and exhaled with each count so that the breath itself is smooth and continuous. Practice even breathing for as long as you wish.
When you are ready to finish the exercise take 3 deep breaths to ‘log off’ and lower your chin before opening your eyes.